CINCINNATI (AP) — Luke Fickell understands that bye weeks can come in handy during a grueling college football season.
He’s just not sure that the week off enjoyed by his Cincinnati players came at the best time.
The No. 7 Bearcats were off last week after improving to 3-0 by coming back from a 14-0 deficit on the road to beat Indiana, 38-24. Cincinnati’s fifth-year coach would’ve preferred to maintain that momentum.
“Obviously, coming off a bye week is a little different,” Fickell said Tuesday during his weekly media session. “I’m not one of those guys who loves bye weeks. It kind of messes with your rhythm. I know there are some benefits to bye weeks, though it’s not about getting healthy three weeks into the season. Not having a game on Saturday means some guys sleep better. They get some much-needed mental rest, but it was real nice to come out yesterday and get some practice in. Getting back into the routine of what is obviously a big week is kind of where we are.”
Fickell knows what’s at stake this week as Cincinnati prepares to travel to South Bend, Indiana, to face No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0), led by former Bearcats coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman, who filled the same job at Cincinnati before leaving this year for the Fighting Irish. Cincinnati offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has served two terms on the Notre Dame coaching staff, including seven years as an assistant to Kelly.
And Cincinnati second-year graduate transfer Michael Young Jr., a wide receiver, previously played at Notre Dame.
Those relationships are just two of many shared by the two top-10 teams going into Saturday’s game, their first against each other since 1900. Long-standing relationships with opposing coaches are nothing new to Fickell.
“It’s the nature of the business,” he said. “A lot of coaches are buddies and friends who you might’ve worked with for a long time or played with. Individually, some of our guys have a relationship with Coach Freeman. Those are things people talk about. It can distract us from what we have to do, but once the ball is kicked off, you don’t think about it until it’s 00 on the clock.”
Fickell was more concerned about how his team would handle the atmosphere of playing against what he described as one of college football’s top five programs. He’s hoping that playing then-No. 9 Georgia in last season’s Peach Bowl and working through the recent announcement that Cincinnati would be joining the Big 12 Conference will help the Bearcats handle the hoopla.
“It’s big,” he admitted. “I’m not going to lie to you. Once the thing is kicked off, you can’t let all of the emotions about what was going on affect you. You can’t let it drain you. It can happen to coaches. With all of the things you do to prepare, once you get to Saturday, it can drain you.
“It’s a big game any time you play Notre Dame. They’re a top-five program, not just all-time but over the past five years. This just happens to be the year that both teams are really good and ranked high, but you can’t spend all of your emotions worrying about what’s going on.
“It’s definitely a measuring stick. Georgia was a top-10 program. Notre Dame is a top-five program, not just over the last 100 years, but over the last five. That it’s the ultimate measuring stick in all that we do is what’s great for us.”